To quote John Goodman's character from The Big Lebowksi, "Has the whole world gone crazy!" To live in modern times means to be constantly inundated with news. It's inescapable. It's never ending. And lately, it's usually pretty depressing. We have to cut ourselves a little slack though, it's completely human nature to see what's happening all around us and assume that Chicken Little was correct — perhaps the sky really is falling.
The Christian version of this might be to look at passages within The Book of Revelation and assume these prophecies are finally coming true, just as Chicken Little was convinced the world was coming to an end. However, if you remember the story of Chicken Little, not only was the sky not falling, but a far greater threat is identified in the character of the Wolf. According to this old tale, not only does Chicken Little's irrational fear cause her to fall prey to the Wolf, but she also leads her friends into his den as well. Chicken Little is so convinced that the sky is falling that she is blind to the predator right before her eyes. In the same way, if we only extract end times prophecies from the Book of Revelations, we will miss out on the truly applicable richness it has to offer.
To say that the Book of Revelations has been hotly debated over the centuries is putting it mildly. Biblical scholars for generations have struggled with what to make of this unique piece of writing. The pioneers of the Reformation debated whether or not they should even include it in newer translations of the bible. Steeped in poetry and strange prophetic visions it was confusing and unlike most of the rest of the bible; scholars continue to debate to this day who even wrote it. The text itself only identifies the author as "John," but depending on when the document was written it could either be the Apostle John or someone else entirely. Regardless, it's crucial to understand what it is, who it was originally intended for, what it would have meant to them, and what implications it might have for us now.
The first thing that's important to understand is that The Book of Revelation is comprised of letters to seven different churches in the late first century is of Roman Asia Minor. The text itself is written in a literary style called apocalyptic writing. The word apocalyptic is actually derived from the Greek word apokalypsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation." There are several other instances of this type of writing contained within the bible such as the Book of Daniel and various other passages in Ezekiel, Psalms, and Isaiah. The author of Revelation frequently references these earlier prophecies as a way to show that Jesus will be the ultimate fulfillment of what had been previously predicted. He we come again to be the final victor over evil and usher in an era of peace and justice.
Just as with the letter of Paul, these letters would have been read aloud to the original audience. These early Christians would have heard the entire message at one time, and related the message to their current situation. These were a people who though that the end was very near. Not something thousands of years removed, but something that was going to occur within their lifetimes. We must consider the fact that the people hearing this message for the very first time would have related to it on a level we can only imagine. These were a people who were undergoing intense persecution, had their religious temples repeatedly destroyed, and were invaded time and again, exiled, and enslaved by multiple empires over a period of hundreds of years. Revelation brought with it a promise that in the end, Jesus would return to bring peace and justice to the world and return God's people to paradise. The evil empires who had brought the Jewish communities and early Christians so much torment and pain would finally be defeated. Our expulsion from the Garden of Eden would, in the end, come full circle.
There lies a simple message amidst the wild and strange imagery within Revelation - beware the empire. The author warns that no matter what form or name the empire takes - the Babylonian Empire, Roman Empire or Egyptian Empire - they all prospered on the backs of the poor. Empire will always sell out to greed, idolatry and injustice. Famous Roman historical Tacitus once said of the Roman Empire, "They plunder, they slaughter, and they steel: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace." Roman peace was peace by the sword - peace that came with a cost. Jesus brings a different kind of peace. So the question the author of Revelation asked all of those years ago and the question it still asks of us today is will you fall for the false promises of the empire? Or will you put your faith in Jesus? Is Caesar God or is Jesus? And just as John of Revelation challenged the first Christians, he challenges us still today.
Where injustice exists will you stand against it? Or will you turn a blind eye?
Where the "other" has been exploited will you stand in their defense? Or will you walk away?
Just remember the moral of the story of Chicken Little - when the world seems as if it's falling apart, we must be brave and carry on. Even if the world doesn't end tomorrow, it doesn't mean that we can't bring some of the Kingdom of God to the here and now. So when you flip on the news tomorrow remember there are real people experience real apocalypses that are crying out for our help.